During a recent discussion on grace and sin in my fifth-grade class, one student asked, “What happens if you did a [mortally] sinful thing right at the last moment before you died?” When I responded that that would be enough to keep you from being with God forever because you had chosen to turn from Him, another student responded, “Yeah, that’s my worst fear — that I would do that.”
This second student, however, is not one to live in fear; in fact, she is almost always beaming with genuine joy, even if she receives a correction. So it was not a fear of hell that motivated her statement. Rather, it was a true and deep desire never to turn away from God, because she longs to continue the relationship she has with Him now forever. That central relationship is the source of her clearly visible Christian joy.
Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Its presence indicates that God Himself is present and active in our lives. For joy comes when we are most truly ourselves, and we are most fully ourselves when we live in love of the God who made us out of love and for love. When our relationship with God is strong, there is a deep sense of joy, even in the midst of sufferings and trials, because these crosses take on a new light and a profound redemptive meaning. Ultimately, we know that, if we are experiencing the Cross, He is there, and this closeness to Him brings genuine peace and joy.
When we have this level of joy, we cannot help but exude it and desire to share it with others. When you love someone, you want others to know how wonderful that person is, too. It is the same with God. Because we love Him, and because we have experienced the joy and peace of being loved by Him, we long for others to encounter Him, too. Out of love for them, we desire for them also to experience the peace and joy of His presence, the meaning to life that a relationship with Him brings.
During this month of October, the Church has been celebrating an Extraordinary Missionary Month, named as such by Pope Francis in honor of the 100th anniversary of Pope Benedict XV’s apostolic letter on the missionary nature of the Church. The theme of this month has been, “Baptized and Sent: The Church of Christ on Mission in the World.” As baptized Christians, we are each sent out by Christ on mission to the world — to bring to others the love and joy and peace of our Savior and theirs.
During these remaining days of October, how will you be a missionary disciple in the world? How will you share the joy of the Gospel with those you encounter at home, at work, at the gym, at the grocery store? A first step in sharing the joy of the Gospel is to radiate that joy yourself, as my student does. Would that all who see us might think, “What makes them so full of joy?”
Sr. Mary Martha Becnel is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.